J.D. Power calls the study APEAL for Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout
For many reasons, we think this is the most important and telling ranking that J.D. Power does. The study examines what consumers like in their new vehicles after 90 days of ownership. Consumers are asked to rate their vehicles in eight categories -- performance and design, engine/transmission/ride, handling and braking, comfort/convenience, seat comfort, cockpit/instrument panel, heating/ventilation/cooling, sound system, and styling/exterior.
This study often has surprises. Despite the fact that Honda and Toyota have the best reputations for quality, there were no Toyotas (there is one Lexus, which is Toyota's premium brand) among the leaders in the study, and only one Honda. Volkswagen, whose "quality" ratings have slipped from an already below average level, scored the most cars that lead their respective categories -- five out of 24. In other words, people love driving their VWs even if they have more glitches and repairs than some other brands. General Motors scored four of its vehicles as leaders out of the 24 categories.
Here is a link to the study as a whole with all the category leaders. Our editors have given you five of the "most liked" vehicles and five vehicles of brands that scored the lowest in the study.
What is one of the up-shots of this study? David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power says that dealers are able to charge more for the vehicles with higher APEAL rankings.
Best - 1. PorscheIt is perhaps no surprise that Porsche owners rank their vehicles so high. Every Porsche in the showroom is a car that most buyers have aspired to buy. They don't buy it so much for practicality, but for the statement it makes to their peers and how the cars make them feel.
The iconic 911 sports car ranked a close second to the Mercedes-Benz SL in the "mid-sized sporty car" category. But the Porsche Boxster topped the "compact-premium sporty-car" category. And the Porsche Cayenne topped the "mid-sized-premium CUV" category. Those ratings landed Porsche as the number-one brand on J.D. Power APEAl ranking.
Best - 2. AudiAudi's vehicles are studied by every company in the industry for the quality of interior materials and layout of cockpit. In recent years, Audi has added snappier and sleeker exterior designs, and more performance packages that wow the luxe car buyers.
The Audi A6 placed a close second to the BMW 5 Series in the "mid-sized premium car" segment. The Audi all-road topped the "compact-premium CUV" segment. And the Audi Q7 tied for second with the BMW X5 for second place in the "mid-sized-premium CUV" segment. Such stellar ratings were good enough for #2 brand overall on the APEAL ranking.
Best - 3. BMWBMW, like its German rivals Porsche and Audi, make exemplary interiors. BMW engines and suspension tuning is also considered to be the best in the world for sedans. In fact, it was BMW that essentially invented the concept of the "sports sedan."
While some owners gas a little at the cost of an oil change on a German car, BMW actually takes that headache away for the first four years of ownership with free maintenance. That leaves the joy of driving the car to the owner.
BMW has expanded its product line quite a bit over the last 15 years or so, and many rank in the top three in each of the categories J.D. Power ranks in APEAL. The X-5 CUV ties for No. 2 in its category. The 3-Series ranks No. 3 in the "compact premium car segment." The 5-Series is No. 1 in its class. The 6-Series is No. 3 in its category. All those high scores makes BMW rank No. 3 among all brands for delighting its customers.
Best - 4. Land RoverLand Rover has a limited product lineup, but they all do quite well. In fact, the all-new Range Rover Sport, which has been receiving high praise across the board from automotive industry reviewers, stands atop J.D. Power's "large premium CUV" category. In fact, it was ranked higher than any other model in the APEAL study. The smaller Evoque, which was AOL Autos' "Truck of the Year" for 2011, is No. 3 in the "compact-premium CUV" segment.
The build quality of these still-British-made SUV has become top-notch, a brand wide improvement campaign that was begun by Ford when the U.S. automaker owned Land Rover from 1999 to 2006. Now, the brand and company is owned by Indian automaker Tata Motors, and the new owner is taking up where Ford left off.
The Range Rover, among its many improvements, is around 800 pounds lighter thanks to its aluminum body structure. This not only makes the vehicle, always fun to drive, more fuel efficient, but also much better handling on road.
Best - 5. LexusThough Toyota ranks fifth from the bottom in J.D. Power's APEAL study, the company's luxury division, Lexus, ranks a solid No. 5.
Lexus, since it came into being in 1988 has always had a high standard for fit-and-finish of materials, ride comfort, quiet engines -- all the things that make conservative luxury-car buyers smile.
Lexus only leads one category -- "large premium car." But its GS sedan is No. 3 in its category. Its other models do not show up in any of the other top-three rankings in the other 22 product segments that Power measures. But the overall brand ranks No. 5 among all automakers because none of its models are stinkers.
The same level of refinement found in the LS and GS are generally found in all the other models. But other automakers have studied and benchmarked Lexus for so long, they have, in some case, outperformed the teacher.
Worst - 1. smartWe want to like the smart fortwo mini-car. But it is difficult. It is a very old design, with a pretty old engine. This combination disappoints its buyers who are attracted to the car for its quirkiness, perceived great gas mileage and ease of parking ins small spaces.
But actual fuel economy for such a small car is only about 36 mpg to 40 mpg. We can get that with a Fusion Hybrid or even a non-hybrid with more space and practicality like a Chevy Sonic.
The smart will be replaced in a couple of years with a new design and engine by owner Mercedes-Benz. But for now, the tiny car is akin to driving around a shopping cart.
Worst - 2. MitsubishiWe have seen a lot of brands leave the market in recent years -- Pontiac, Hummer, Mercury, Plymouth, Saab, Isuzu. It's a miracle to us that Mitsubishi is not among the departed.
The Japanese brand has gone from high-flyer to ditched in a decade. Its deep-pocketed Japanese parent insists on persisting in the U.S. with models that have mediocre performance and fit-and-finish and nothing special to offer customers.
Other than that, the cars seem to be just fine. Except if you ask the people who mysteriously pass up other more legitimate vehicles sold through much better dealers. They have ranked Mitsubishi second from last in the industry. They must be very grateful for the smart brand.
Worst - 3. SubaruSubaru's performance as third worst in the industry is very surprising to us. We have always found Subarus to be delightful to drive and to own. In recent years, the company has gone a long way toward fixing the few criticisms we have had over the years -- like the poorly thought-out cup-holder design and other interior annoyances.
The Boxer engines tend to purr like BMWs and the suspension tuning delivers taut driving enjoyment.
We have heard that the Subaru BRZ sports coupe, which it co-developed with Toyota, has dragged Subaru's ratings down. That makes some sense. We would not let Subaru's low brand rating deter you from buying an Outback, Forester or Impreza, all of which our editors rank quite high for quality and performance.
Worst - 4. JeepWe are big fans of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. But unfortunately for Jeep, the brand's lineup still includes Jeep Compass, Patriot and Liberty.
Those three Jeeps are holdovers from the days when Daimler owned Chrysler, followed by private-equity firm Cerberus Capital. In those days, these three models were short-changed of many of the features and attributes that delight customers. It seems to us that most buyers of these Jeeps are buying them to get four-wheel-drive vehicles for as little money as possible.
Indeed, all three of these vehicles are being phased out and replaced with new models developed by Chrysler with current owner Fiat. We very much like the improvements we have seen under Fiat and have high-hopes for the new models.
In the meantime, we do not think Compass and Patriot are as dreadful as this study would suggest. Their off-road capability is actually under-rated, and Chrysler has dialed in many improvements to the interiors. Buy them on deep discount this year, and you are apt not to be disappointed.
Worst - 5. ToyotaIt is very surprising to see Toyota so low on the APEAL ranking. Hopefully, it is a wake-up call to the company, which has for so long been a leader in building quality automobiles.
The problems? Models like Toyota Camry and Corolla, two high-volume sellers, have had disappointing interiors. There has been a blandness to many Toyotas inside and out, like the Highlander and 4Runner.
Toyotas are still bolted together very well. But as other car brands have gotten so good at combining quality with design and useful features, the bar keeps getting higher for Toyota to clear. And even when brands are rated for nuts-and-bolts quality, Toyota has plenty of company among the best in the industry.
The Japanese company, which has for so long been a leader in the U.S. and the world, should be doing a lot of self-examination to find and fix the things that are disappointing customers this much.